“We’ve got a game Tuesday. We’ve got to put it right there.”
That was the message from Tranmere defender Liam Ridehalgh after their promotion push hit another snag on Saturday.
Playing their first league game in four weeks, Rovers huffed and puffed but came up well short against against one rivals Dagenham, losing 2-0 at Prenton Park.
Postponements due to the FA Cup and cold weather are to blame for such a bare calendar – and they really could not have come at a worse time.
It is this stage of the season when you would expect a team to really kick on, if they are to mount a serious challenge for top spot.
Games usually come thick and fast; points can be picked up quickly, leading to formidable gaps opening up.
But that has not been the case for Micky Mellon’s side. They have been left trudging around the training field, desperate for the chance to get over a New Year’s Day defeat to Macclesfield.
Against Dagenham, they finally got their opening. Anticipation was high. Yet they looked every inch a team who had just one competitive outing under their belts in nearly a month.
It was that sharpness that was missing. Not anticipating where a cross might end up, or coming off second best when challenging for a loose ball.
“We just could have believed in ourselves a little bit more,” said Ridehalgh.
“On another day, some of the balls that have gone in, they could have gone in the net.
“We just weren’t getting on the end of them, and that’s sometimes just the way it is.
“I think with the break, it’s taken the wind out of our sails.
“We’re possibly missing some rhythm. Training’s not the same as games.
“We’re not going to get too down about it. We’ve lost our last two games, but we can get too down.
“I think we’ve done magnificent up until today, and if we just kick on in the second half of the season, then who knows?”
Rovers actually started brightly enough – although they struggled to break down a near impenetrable defence who stoutly guarded the 18-yard line.
Whilst James Wallace and Andy Mangan had chances in the opening exchanges, both were from outside the box and neither particularly threatened.
And that has been an all too familiar problem of late, as Tranmere’s strikers made it five games without a goal.
Mangan had another effort in the second half, brushing the crossbar with a flicked header as he connected with Jeff Hughes’ free-kick.
But he was too regularly flagged offside as a frustrating afternoon was summed up by having a goal disallowed for making his run slightly early.
Dagenham, meanwhile, had just as few opportunities as the hosts, such was their tactical set up on the afternoon.
But they had a huge stroke of luck on 25-minutes when a miscued Corey Whiteley cross deceived everyone as it found the back of the net.
The winger was aiming for the far post when he swung his right boot from the edge of the box, only to see the ball glide over Scott Davies and creep into the top corner.
Their other goal, coming after straight after the break, did not require any fortune as neither centre-back was anywhere near Oliver Hawkins when he picked up possession in the Rovers half.
The striker had time to control the ball and press forward before slotting past Davies from just inside the box.
What is most worrying for Micky Mellon is how his side reacted.
Heads dropped after the first goal in particular, whilst it took until the arrival of James Norwood for Tranmere to truly muster some momentum.
He had one shot, running onto a through ball before seeing a low drive saved from a narrow angle.
The lack of goals for the frontmen is without doubt a concern for Mellon.
Even the returning Andy Cook, back after a broken finger, could not wrestle things their way as he was too often left isolated.
The manager is now demanding a response as, finally, the fixture list begins to hot up.
Rovers head to Woking tomorrow knowing that they have got to bounce back quickly to keep the promotion hunt alive.
“There’s still 18-games left,” continued Ridehalgh.
“There’s probably no need to panic just yet. But three points on Tuesday would rectify this one a little bit.
“It’s going to be tough – they all are in this league.
“When they play the likes of Tranmere, they want to impress.
“But we’ve just got to play our own game and not get carried away.
“There are four or five teams in the pack. If we keep in touch, the last five or ten games, that’s when we can hopefully kick on.
“Up until then, we just need to get as many points as we can.
“We’ve got enough in the squad to go down there and win.”